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Reviews Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made. Jonathon Green. New York: Henry Holt and Co. / London: Jonathan Cape, 1996. Pp. xviii + 510 pages. $30.00. T'he title phrase of Green's book, "chasing the sun," comes from Samuel Johnson's Preface to the 1775 edition of his dictionary, which furnishes the epigraph for his book: "to pursue perfection [as a lexicographer] was, like the first inhabitants of Arcadia, to chace the sun, which, when they had reached the hill where he seemed to rest, was still beheld at the same distance from them" (vii). The phrase doesn't recur in Green's book until the last page, where he says: "To abandon the subjectivity of aJohnson or a Webster is feasible , even desirable. To abandon all humanity, to achieve some Platonic perfection of an entirely disinterested dictionary is impossible ... the dictionary maker is part and parcel of the dictionary that is made. The intrusion may be limited, but to ask otherwise is to not merely to chase the sun, but to suppose one can catch it too" (468: the ungrammatical repetition of to is Green's, representative of a problem to which I will return) . Green's subtitle is wholly descriptive of his book, though his emphasis is more on the "makers" than on their dictionaries. His goal is probably as good an example of "chasing the sun" as that of any lexicographer, of which class he is himself a representative. In evaluating his relative success, I will follow his example by looking first at his own sources, then at the content of his book and at its problems before concluding with a summary evaluation. Dictionaries as objects of study A consistent theme throughout Green's book is the successive dependence of each dictionary maker on those who went before. A quick count of page references in his index shows that the "makers" themselves, not their products, are most frequently mentioned: SamuelJohnson on 50 pages, Noah Webster on 45, James Murray on 40, Sir Thomas Elyot on 37 (his dictionary of 1538 was "the first ever English reference work to employ the word 'dictionary' in its title" [93, citing Murray, 17]), down to medieval glossarists like John of Garland (9) and Alexander Neckham (8). But I will look at his coverage of "makers" more closely in the next section . Of greater significance here is the fact that The English Dictionary from Cawdrey toJohnson, 1604-1755 is one of Green's major predecessors in the historical study of dictionary making: DeWitt Starnes is mentioned on 31 pages and his coauthor Gertrude Noyes on 18. In fact, Green is heavily dependent on the work of prior scholars in the field of lexicographical history — indeed, 206Reviews probably at least a third of his text consists of quotations, usually apt and well chosen, from both "makers" and scholars. It may be useful here to look briefly at Green's principal scholarly sources, as well as at a few he ignored. That the study of lexicography as a discipline is a well-trodden field is obvious from a look at the electronic catalog of the library of Cleveland State University, hardly a major research collection. A search of the subject "lexicography " produced 25 subject headings, representing 51 different entries. It seems interesting that, of the 18 entries on "Lexicography — English Language " in this small library, there are some that do not appear in Green's bibliography . I will discuss these lexicographica] studies in chronological order so that this section will furnish a brief historical review. Though Green discusses such early theoretical writing as Johnson's preface to his Dictionary, he sets as the beginning of modern lexicographical scholarship the work of Richard Chevenix Trench, whose lectures "On the Study of Words" and "English Past and Present" (1851 and 1855, published together ) laid a solid theoretical foundation for the editors of the New English Dictionary. The most important of those editors, hence a "maker" (and cited almost as often as is Dr.Johnson) was SirJames Augustus Henry Murray, whose booklet The Evolution ofEnglish Lexicography (1900) offers a concise historical account from the medieval glosses to the OxfordEnglish Dictionary; pages 50-51...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 205-221
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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